The man who helped coin the phrase “Show me the money!” is now altering that iconic cinematic and sports bite to “Show me the Green!”
As in global-warming, carbon-footprint, clean-up-the-planet’s-act Green.
Longtime mega-sports agent Leigh Steinberg — who was the consultant and prototype for the Tom Cruise film “Jerry Maguire” in 1996 — was in Minneapolis Thursday promoting a new, still-forming sports project called the Sporting Green Alliance. (He was also the keynote speaker at the “Meet Minneapolis” annual meeting.)
At his side was former Minneapolis DFL leader and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew, who also has gone totally green in the last couple of years, seeking to link sports with environmentalism. Andrew has formed his own GreenMark Sports, a marketing enterprise trying to sell sponsorships.
But, let’s digress …
Generally speaking, sports team owners and athletes are loath to make political statements. Sure, owners contribute to campaign coffers. And their team’s foundations offer help to community groups. Athletes give some dough to charity — cancer, children’s causes, school sports, zoos. And some jocks, like Portland Trailblazer rookie Greg Oden and Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling are beginning to endorse presidential candidates.
Controversial activism still a rarity for athletes, owners
But it’s the rare athlete or owner (or agent) who takes an outspoken, activist stand on a pressing social issue of the day: you know, your basic racism, sexism, homophobia and economic inequity stands.
They are so few and far between, we remember them clearly … from back in the day (Billie Jean King on women’s rights to Tommie Smith and John Carlos for black athletes to Bill Walton on the Vietnam War) up to our current crises (speedskater Joey Cheek, using his 2006 Torino gold medal to highlight the genocide in Darfur and work with Right to Play, the humanitarian sports group that’s seeking to bring games to children where famine and war otherwise rule).
And it’s especially curious to see a sports agent make a late-course correction in his career. After all, even Steinberg, 59, one of the great agent pioneers, starting back in the 1970s, acknowledges that agents have been labeled as “sleazoid.”
He says he’s always had his clients seek to give back to their communities, but now he wants to do more. He wants athletes and teams to do more. And he sees sports venues as powerful platforms for environmental education.
Turning stadiums into environmental education tools
Stadiums, he argues, can be hands-on museums and educational locales for environmental consciousness.
“How can we utilize sports as a tool … to try to bring attention and make a shift?” he said, during his speech to the Meet Minneapolis luncheon. “We know people don’t want to be lectured to … We need to create an educational platform so the millions of fans that come into those stadiums would see sustainability and environmental concepts for the first time.”
He spoke of waterless urinals. Of how stadiums can be energy-storage facilities. He spoke of recycling efforts.
Add up pro, college, high school and recreational facilities “and you’re talking about a massive amount of buildings … you’re talking about, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, billions and billions of people. What can a green franchise actually do?
“A green franchise would be an educator, like a science musem or … you could use the athletes themselves.”
Let me digress a second time …
If there is any industry that seems to be about overconsumption, it’s sports. Its TV presentations sell beer, flat-screen TVs, cars, trucks and more cars.
And if there are any public figures who seem to flout environmental principles, they are pro athletes, who seem to pride themselves in building 40,000-square-foot-homes and tool around town in Hummers, wear fur coats … the imagery is far from green.
These are exemplars of environmental sustainability? These are your messengers? He says he’s gotten some athletes to sign on with some environmental petitions. He notes they are parents, too, and concerned about their children, too.
Steinberg points to his effort years ago with boxer Lennox Lewis on domestic violence.
“Real Men Don’t Hit Women,” Lewis said in a public service announcement. And Steinberg said that did more to affect men than many more expensive programs or authority figures could.
We’ll wait to see which NFL lineman or Major League slugger advocates for a hybrid compact car or talks about composting.
Steinberg and Andrew met with officials from the Timberwolves, the University of Minnesota, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and the Twins. It should be noted that the local franchises are ahead of the game.
New local facilities leaning ‘green’
The new Gophers stadium is seeking the highly sought LEED energy and environmental standards certification, and the ‘U’ has touted that effort as the first in the nation for a college stadium. And the Twins, too, have been seeking to build their new ballpark with sustainability in mind.
“It’s been a priority,” Twins President Dave St. Peter told MinnPost this morning.
Team officials have been watching closely the construction of the Washington Nationals new ballpark, which will open next week, the first ballpark trying its best to be environmentally conscious and also gain LEED certification.
It’s difficult not to be skeptical, not to be cynical, not to see a sports agent or team turn suddenly to embrace treehugging.
But, of course, if the outcome is good for the environment, maybe sports can contribute. Steinberg’s vision that all sports facilities — from huge stadiums to neighborhood ice rinks — go green is exciting. As the Vikings go forward with their efforts, the community should hold the feet of the Sports Facilities Commission and the team to an environmentally sound proposal.